Idaho Attorney General Al Lance will propose legislation this year allowing Idaho to confine dangerous sex offenders indefinitely after they’ve finished serving their prison terms.
Lance said this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a similar law in Kansas was all he needed to move forward.
The Kansas law, which allows indefinite civil confinement of sexual predators who are deemed likely to re-offend, was modeled after Washington’s civil confinement law. Washington was the first state to pass such a law; five other states followed.
“The recidivism rate for those individuals who are sexual predators, particularly pedophiles, it’s just absolutely appalling,” Lance said in an interview.
He estimated that four to five Idaho convicts a year who now are released after completing their sentences could be candidates for confinement under a new law.
Under civil confinement, the state declares that the offender has a “mental abnormality,” in the words of the Kansas law. Then, it can confine the offender indefinitely for treatment, with the condition that if the treatment succeeds and the “patient” is cured, he can be released.
Civil libertarians have decried the laws for locking up people based on what they might do, rather than what they’ve done, and for punishing people repeatedly for the same crime.
But the U.S. Supreme Court, in its late-June ruling, held that civil confinement is not necessarily punishment. It also ruled that the prisoners need not have a medically recognized “mental illness,” which previously had been required for involuntary commitments.
“The bottom line with civil confinement is that you have this problem, and until you correct the problem you’re a threat to society,” he said. “Unless they respond in a positive manner to treatment or rehabilitation, they would be confined.”
The legislation he’s drafting would have the Corrections Department and the Commission for Pardons and Parole evaluate convicts and recommend them for confinement when they’re released from prison.
Lance said a judge also would be involved in an annual review of each case to ensure confinement is merited.
He’s hoping a secure mental hospital operated by the state Health and Welfare Department could house the offenders.
Lance also plans to propose changes in Idaho’s sex offender registration law, to make the registration information public. It now is given only to law enforcement agencies. Citizens may request information only about a specific individual, and only if they have information such as a birth date to identify the person.
“Parents, of course, want the ability to be able to find out if their baby-sitter or coaches or Scout leader or 4-H leader or whomever has a history of molesting children, and that’s a legitimate concern, I think,” Lance said.
He doesn’t expect Idaho to go as far as Washington, where police pass out fliers with pictures of released sex offenders and actively notify neighbors of their movements.
But, he said, “It seems to me if it’s a public record and the local sheriff or local chief of police decides that’s what they want to do, that’s fine.”
Said Lance, a Republican, “I don’t want to encourage vigilantism. But I think a community has a right to know.”
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